Free Software University - open source learning

Free Software University

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Marrying technology, innovation, and this curious Internet thing of giving stuff away for free, consultant and Cong-base Englishman, Lloyd Hardy, is hoping to kick start an online learning revolution.

Hardy proposes to deliver university courses for free over the internet using an “open source” model. Open source has revolutionised the delivery of technology since the late 1990s. Famous examples include the Linux operating system, the Firefox browser, the Apache web server and the OpenOffice suite. These and thousands of other products are available at the equally famous price of zero euro.

“My idea is that would-be students who, for a variety of reasons are unable to learn in the traditional way are able to access tuition from graduates working in industry in a structured learning environment in a virtual classroom,” said Hardy of the Free Software University (FSU). Course delivery will suit different learning styles since it will come in video, written and audio formats.

An IT Consultant, Hardy said the initial focus would be on technical courses. “I want to see short, one- or two-hour coursewares right up to long-term research groups in fields such as Artificial Intelligence. We may even be lucky enough to be able to share our work directly with educational institutions around the world,” he said.

Hardy said FSU aims to “deliver free education to students in a sustainable environment without financial cost or the need for donations.” He has already rustled up “around 100 students, teachers, graduates, mentors and industry partners” and hopes to have the first modules online in the next few months. These will probably be web-development courses.

Tutors include new users “right up to published authors and software development companies,” he said. “There are some really talented people in our group.”

“The means by which we ‘afford’ such qualified tuition is by ‘industry partnering’, where any company who would like to interact as closely as possible to a body of researchers can become involved. The company benefits by having access to new technologies and by having students work on their real-world projects, which gives students rich working environment experience,” said Hardy.

Although he is based in Ireland, Hardy said the FSU is open from people from “Athens to Zanzibar” and he prefers to think of the university as being “based online.”

Licensing will fall under the Affero General Public License (AGPL). GPLs require that derived work be available under the same license terms. In practical terms, this means that a software developer, for example, will write a programme and make it available. Others are free to review and improve upon his work, but the new and improved code must be made available, too.

“The one thing we need to do in this ideology is to protect the innovation of students from abuse. The AGPL allows us to do that,” said Hardy. “In this way, we hope to better ourselves – as a band of learners and to provide a fertile environment for the latest innovation,” he added.

In terms of qualifications, none are available now. “It’s up to us to show the boards that award accreditation around the world that we are up to standard. It will probably be harder than most, as we’re entirely virtual – but that doesn’t mean impossible,” Hardy said. For now, students will have to sit third-party certification tests or earn college credit through systems such as the American College Level Examination Program (CLEP).

“There are no barriers to involvement in education really. If you really want to make a change, you can – it will be whatever you make it,” Hardy said.

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About the author

John P. Muldoon - Married with two kids, I am an IT professional with a strong interest in innovation, management, and technology—especially web development. I follow politics and economics when I want to annoy myself. I am also quite fond of the Irish language and culture. I am currently pursuing an MBA at the Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT), which I plan to complete in 2011. Please feel free to follow me on Twitter @JohnPMuldoon. I’m also on LinkedIn.